Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

41st Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival

The Straw Bear Festival, at Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, was revived in 1980, and takes place over a weekend in mid January each year, in 2020 on 17-19th.  The main day is Saturday, when many morris sides perform around the town (see report on the 2017 Festival on this website).

The Sunday event, held in the Sir Harry Smith Community College, is smaller, more intimate and possibly more enjoyed by local people – though some of them appear to unaware of its existence.  Between 12.00 noon and 2.30 p.m. there were displays of dancing, interspersed with music from a scratch band, and an unaccompanied singing trio.  The programme was carefully arranged so that molly dancers, Cotswold morris, rapper-sword, Border morris and northwestern clog morris were represented.

At 2.30 the musicians formed a procession and led everyone to the school field, where a strawbear (not the costume worn on Saturday) was burnt, while the musicians played on, watched by a silent, almost reverent, crowd.  When the flames had almost completed their work, wheat straw with ears attached was distributed to those who wanted it.

Later in the afternoon a Plough Sunday service was held in St Mary’s church.   Readings from the bible  and prayers selected for their relevance to agriculture and other human human occupations were read.  A plough and bowl of soil were blessed,  hymns were sung (rather slowly), and there were two performances by Peterborough Morris.

Iamges:  upper, Pig Dyke Molly Dancers; middle, Staw Bear burning; lower, Peterborough Morris with plough in St Mary’s church; all 19 January 2020.

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